Archive for April, 2009

Right-Sizing?

April 17, 2009

Word came in this week that over 50 teachers were laid off. From the Sun-Post:

The Robbinsdale District 281 School Board on Monday, April 6, adopted resolutions terminating 57 probationary staff members and proposing to place two continuing contract teachers on unrequested leave of absence on June 4.

“This is an annual event; it takes place in every school district,” Superintendent Stan Mack said. “It’s a very difficult and sad part of the year. It’s not because of budget limitations. It is a critical part of making sure we are not living excessively for one year, only to have to make major budget cuts the following year.”

Stan Mack knows a lot about living excessively. Even though he’s getting a golden parachute draining district coffers, Mack’s actively seeking another position. Wouldn’t it be nice if he declined the salary/benefits parachute and give back to the district he’s taken so much from? We can dream, can’t we?

Now, to “right-sizing:”

Stephanie Crosby, the district’s executive director of human resources, said the need to reduce teachers came as part of the district’s decision to “right-size.” With the closing of two schools and the repurposing of a third, she said, further savings come from reductions in staff.

In the fall of 2008, the district projected its enrollment for January 2010 at 12,300, and said up to 40 additional teachers would be needed to maintain lower class sizes, Crosby said.

But after action to close three schools – and new projections indicating fewer than 12,000 students are expected in January 2010 – only 25 additional teachers will be needed, she said.

How about the issue of “right-sizing” the remaining schools? Take Northport for example. Class sizes there will likely be 30+ this next school year, after closing 2 elementary schools and an expected 200 more students enrolling this fall. That’s way more per classroom than they promised during referendum campaign promises. Then, there’s the problem of right-sizing RMS for programs promised to carry over from Sandburg. Seems like they might be 12 classrooms short. This is right-sizing?!

Info and details are starting to come in – updates will follow. If you’re a frustrated teacher, staff, parent, student or citizen who feels the district has once again made decisions without forethought (and not keeping referendum promises), you’re in good company.

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Dr. Sicoli is chosen for new superintendent

April 10, 2009

From a 281 press release received today:

Dr. Aldo Sicoli has accepted an offer from the Robbinsdale Area School Board to be the next superintendent of the Robbinsdale district. The school board interviewed two finalists for the position, Sicoli and Dr. Carlton Jenkins of Beloit, Wisconsin. The board discussed the qualifications of the two candidates after Sicoli’s Thursday, April 9 interview. The board felt both were strong candidates, but that Sicoli was a better fit with the attributes developed with the community for superintendent of the district.

“We are very excited that Dr. Sicoli accepted our offer,” said Tom Walsh, school board chair. “He is committed to the success of all learners and improving student achievement; he is a superb communicator both verbally as well as an excellent listener. He will be able to hit the ground running.”

“I am very excited to join the Robbinsdale team,” Sicoli said. “I look forward to working with staff and the community to improve student achievement.”

The school board will now negotiate a contract with Sicoli. Once the contract is approved by the board, Sicoli and current Superintendent Stan F. Mack II will develop a transition plan. Sicoli officially begins work July 1. Mack is retiring at the end of the 2008-09 school year after serving Robbinsdale Area Schools for nine years.

During the board meeting Thursday night, Kenneth Dragseth, a partner with School Exec Connect, the firm hired by the board to assist in the superintendent search, assured the board that it had two qualified candidates. Dragseth said that hiring a new superintendent whose previous position was assistant superintendent was a common practice. More than 20 Twin Cities metropolitan area superintendents, including those at the five largest school districts in the state, had not been superintendent in their previous district, according to Dragseth.

Dr. Aldo Sicoli has been the assistant superintendent for community relations, school operations and program services for Burnsville-Eagan-Savage public schools since 2006.

The most promising  is having a great communicator and listener representing us. We welcome Dr. Sicoli to our district and know he’s got a lot of difficult repair work ahead.

Where is the Class Size Crisis?

April 8, 2009

The Robbinsdale School District knows five words; more money, lower class sizes. Unfortunately for struggling taxpayers, ISD 281 got their money — but their own numbers question whether the school board’s “lower class sizes crisis” was really the truth.

If you go to ISD’s website and look under “delivering referendum promises,” they have a chart as to what class sizes were, and what class sizes would have been if the referendum had failed. They have two graphs. One district-wide graph claims that Grade 5 elementary schools averaged 28,2 kids per class in the 07-08 school year. If the referendum had failed, the graph shows that average class sizes would not have gone up at all! Since the referendum passed, class sizes will now average 25.4 students! In other words 2.8 kids a class was a crisis, and that if the referendum failed, class sizes would not have increased by as much as one student.

In another graph, the district says class sizes averaged 31.3 per class in the 07-08 school year for “high-school core classes.” If the referendum failed, class sizes would be 33.3, but since it passed it will now be 29. Of course, average class size for “core classes” is not the be all and end all. We wonder what the numbers are for everything else. Does this sound like a crisis to anyone out there? The district also has projections that enrollment will continue to slowly decline over the next ten years! Wouldn’t that eventually reduce class sizes? And, before anyone out there tells 281 Exposed that their kid has 40 or 50 kids in a class, please check out the district’s website. We are using their own numbers. One also has to wonder how ISD 281 can claim there is a class size crisis while at the same time 13% of our students don’t live in the district. If our classes are really overcrowded, why are we letting so many kids from outside the district in? Anyone in need of revenue out there?

Palestine Day at Robbinsdale Middle School

April 6, 2009

Found online:

Palestine Day
Sunday April 26, 2009, from 4pm-8pm @ Robbinsdale Middle School. 3730 Toledo Ave N, Robbinsdale.

Directions: From Hwy 100, take 36th Ave E, turn right onto Regent Ave, turn left onto 38th Ave then turn left onto Toledo Ave. The school will be on your left hand side.
Featuring: Allah Made Me Funny, Sanabil-Alquds Dabka Group (Dance troupe from Milwaukee) & Speaker: Br. Hussein Khatib. Refreshments and light meals will be served.

You might not think Allah makes some people funny. For those not familiar with Palestinian activities, watch Minnesota Palestinian activists’ behavior at a rally last January: burning an Israel flag, fighting and shouting down Rep. Keith Ellison:

Here is the link to the website we found the event, filled with some interesting radical organization links and images, including these:

sionismo3

fmln-mn

Motto translation: Anonymous Combatant.

This event is not part of RMS (and not shown on their web site calendar), but it calls into question the relationship between FMLN (an El Salvador political group) and Palestine. Is this event promoted at the school?  Contact RMS principal Christina Hester by e-mail, or call 763-504-4801.

What a superintendent costs you

April 5, 2009

So it’s down to two people to replace Stan Mack as the RSD superintendent; Dr. Aldo Sicoli and Carlton Jenkins. What the district is not telling you is what it cost simply to replace Mr. Mack with one of the two finalists. Consider the fact that Mr. Mack has a annual salary of $169,753. Despite announcing his pending retirement seven months in advance last October, the district will have to pay him half of his yearly salary or $84,876. He also gets pay out of his unused annual leave time. The most he can collect on is a mere 200 days! That means Mack can collect as much as another $130,000!

In addition, he will receive health care benefits for the next SIX years at the cost of somewhere around $20,000! That means Stan Mack’s “retirement” will cost District 281 taxpayers as much as $235,000! And, of course, we will have to give a new superintendent a contract. What will that cost? If it another contract like Mack’s, get ready for another three-year $500,000 payout not including health care costs and paid days off! Speaking of days off, don’t forget Mr. Mack got fifty paid days off and twelve paid holidays. And it cost the District only $27,000 to hire a search firm to find another superintendent. We have to hire somebody to hire somebody! So the total package to have Mr. Mack retire and hire and pay a new boss could cost as much as $761,000. Talk about over the top! Way to use our money well, school board.

Down to two Superintendent candidates

April 3, 2009

Received Thursday via e-mail:

New Hope, Minn. (April 1, 2009) – Dr. Aldo Sicoli and Carlton Jenkins have been named finalists for the superintendent position in Robbinsdale Area Schools. The Robbinsdale Area School Board interviewed four candidates on Tuesday, March 31 and Wednesday, April 1. In a meeting after the last interview Tuesday the board chose Sicoli, Assistant Superintendent of Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191; and Jenkins, Executive Director of Secondary Schools for the School District of Beloit (Wis.) to be interviewed next week.

Members of the community are invited to meet Jenkins from 5 – 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7 and Sicoli from 5 – 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 9 at the Education Service Center boardroom, 4148 Winnetka Ave. N., New Hope. Each finalist will spend a day touring the school district, meeting with staff members and the community, and interviewing with the school board.

The school board interviews are open to the public, though no public comment is allowed. The board will meet following Thursday’s interview, and is expected to select a new superintendent that evening.

We’re pleased that RSD had 27 applicants for the position… but not so much when the finalists are not locals familiar with our district, business-savvy, and willing to shake up failed policies. It looks like more of the same. Speed Gibson has similar comments:

With all due respect to the four candidates, it just seems to me that there should more of them. The job of Superintendent is probably more difficult than we know, but it also pays accordingly. The benefits are stellar by any comparison when you include severance. Let’s break it down.

To lure a competent incumbent Superintendent is going to be difficult. You may find a few wanting a larger challenge. You may find cases where they want to relocate for climate or family reasons. There will be hostile work environments (St. Paul, e.g.?). But I suspect these are exceptions, that most of the applicants are seeking a promotion, like our two finalists.

That said, where are they, all those Assistant Superintendents and Executive Directors out there? Anoka-Hennepin couldn’t find very many either, it would seem. Maybe our requirements are too high. Maybe politics gets in the way, as in unpublished rules about race, party affliation, and gender. Or, maybe licensure is keeping most who could do this job completely out of the running.

If the qualifications above are what keeps the numbers low, that means we aren’t going to see much hope and change in the public school system. We’ll meet them and find out more next week.